Mass Moments, the daily digest of historical events in the Commonwealth, reports that the Massachusetts Constitution was adopted on this date in 1780. Written primarily by John Adams, the document endured a lengthy ratification process which was finalized on June 15, 1780, making the next day the date of its official adoption.
Our state Constitution receives scant attention in popular history, yet it is a document of immense significance. Almost immediately, it served as the basis for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in 1781 to abolish slavery. Writing for the court in the case of Quock Walker v Jennison, Chief Justice William Cushing wrote that the new Constitution granted “rights and privileges wholly incompatible and repugnant to [slavery’s] existence” and thereby abolished the institution of slavery in the Commonwealth. More recently, the state Constitution has been used to uphold the rights of the accused in criminal cases as companion protections in the Federal Constitution were diluted by an increasingly conservative US Supreme Court. The Commonwealth’s Constitution, which grants every citizen the right to a free and complete public education, has also served as the basis for much of the state’s infusion of money into school district’s like Lowell’s. It also was the authority by which the Supreme Judicial Court granted same sex couples the right to marry.
The Massachusetts Constitution is one of the most important governing documents in history and is still a vibrant, powerful instrument that shapes our lives in countless ways. It is truly deserving of greater attention than it receives.